Selected Plants for Southern California Gardens

What started, according to the editor’s preface, as a simple desire to find out what she could grow in her gopher-plagued garden in the San Fernando Valley, grew into an eight-year research project culminating in the publication of this encyclopedic book.

Joan Citron began with an earlier publication of the Southern California Horticultural Society; that publication listed all the plants brought by members and discussed at the monthly meetings from 1947 through 1984, with brief annotations on cultivation needs. She added the plants discussed at meetings from 1985 through 1998 then researched all of them fully in the many references noted in the bibliography. She reviewed her write-ups with knowledgeable individuals, both professional and amateur; among these were botanists, horticulturists, home gardeners, plant collectors, and nursery people. She visited public and private gardens to observe, firsthand, the plants included in the manuscript, to compare them and measure them. The result is a major work covering approximately 2,700 plants. In the preface, Citron traces her editorial journey in the development of the book; it is a model of how to produce a valuable and authoritative, regionally specific, plant reference book.

This is not, however, a book about all the plants that are, or can be, grown in the Los Angeles area. Rather, it is a thorough listing and description of those plants thought interesting enough to be brought for discussion to a meeting of the Southern California Horticultural Society. As such, it includes many plants not found in standard references such as the Sunset Western Garden Book or Griffiths’s Index of Garden Plants. Many of these plants are difficult to locate in nurseries, and some, in fact, may never have been grown again in the Los Angeles area. Most of the plants are, however, available in the area and worth considering for use in the garden.

Beyond the well-researched data on origins, description, culture, and use (landscape, culinary, or other) for each of the plants, Citron includes commentary by individuals familiar with particular plants, keyed to various parts of the Los Angeles area. This results in an even more informative, and sometimes delightfully entertaining, addition to the text, as shown in these comments on Iris foetidissima:

“Totally drought tolerant in shade and better on my dry hill than in the watered part of the garden. But it seeds too much if you don’t keep after it.” [cool coastal area]

“They don’t stay around.” [southern Los Angeles]

“Not drought tolerant by my definition. Mine die without supplemental water.” [Reseda]

“I love it. It seeds but not enough to be a pest. It does need some water.” [Pasadena]

Or these on Cymbalaria muralis:

“Very appealing as it volunteers, trying to be a vine. It cannot be a pest—it is too dainty and is easily plucked out.” [central Los Angeles]

“Trying to get rid of it.” [Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden’

‘Can’t grow it.” [cool coastal area]

This is not a picture book; there are only forty line drawings included, but they are of good quality, drawn by Leslie Walker. While written primarily for gardeners in the Los Angeles area, Selected Plants will have value throughout Southern California. For gardeners elsewhere, with a little bit of knowledge of the Los Angeles area (or a good map or the Western Garden Book), it will serve as a fascinating secondary reference. I intend to store mine between the Sunset and Griffiths books on my reference shelf.

For those not able to attend meetings of the Southern California Horticultural Society, their book can be ordered from the society’s website: www.socalhort.org.

Richard G Turner Jr, editor